9/20/07

Thousands Descend on Jena LA Demanding Equal Justice for Black Students

Via ABC News:
Thousands of protesters have descended on the small town of Jena, La., for a large-scale rally in support of six black students charged in the beating of a white classmate.

They are outraged at what they say is an excessive prosecution of the teens. The District attorney initially had tried to prosecute the students on attempted murder charges.

Martin Luther King III, son of the slain civil rights leader, was there and said the scene was reminiscent of civil rights struggles of the 1960's

For those of you that are unfamiliar with the back ground on the story, here is a YouTube "Cliff notes" version to get you up to speed:



This is a story that started in the Afrospear (or Afrosphere and Blackosphere), a loosely linked group of black Bloggers with strong varying views that discuss everything under the sun, including the race issues that that tend to get ignored in the rest of the Progressive Blogosphere.
I've seen the term "AfroSpear," "AfroSphere," and "Blackosphere." I guess I'm partial to the title and associated logo! To my way of thinking, the AfroSpear is the realization of a think tank (and forum) for Black (African-American) progressives to discuss, muse, and ruminate issues that affect our communities. Inasmuch, we are not a monolithic entity, the AfroSpear will encourage lively debate, discourse, and an occasional disagreement as we hone a thought or platform on a particular issue. With the power of the current bloggers on the AfroSpear list, I'm encouraged that positive and actionable results will become self-evident.
If today's actions are proof of anything, it is the fact that they are having "positive and actionable results." As Dr.James Jennings at The Black Commentator points out:
Community-based nonprofits, operating in low income urban neighborhoods, have a long history of emphasizing economic democracy through the mobilization of community residents. Today, smaller community-based nonprofits continue to provide a range of services that are critical for the social and economic well being of urban neighborhoods. In the U.S., these neighborhood-based nonprofits, with budgets under $5 million, and even less than $1 million, are engaged in charitable and economic activities that touch every aspect of neighborhood life. In many instances, they provide voice to collective interests and needs that are not typically heard in venues of power and wealth. Recent civic dialogue about the future of nonprofits in this country, however, tends to overlook the role and impact of this sub-sector of nonprofits. The public and corporate focus is on downsizing and mergers, performance and outcome measures, or standards of accountability. And, within this dialogue, the issue of social justice and community mobilization is absent.

Community-based organizations in communities of color must return to their original mission on behalf of social justice, advocacy, and political mobilization of residents.

It is the long absence of discussions on issues of social justice in the nation, as a whole, that has resulted in the need for actions like the one that is taking place in Jena today. And these actions would not have happened had it not been through the efforts of those few that pushed it at first. This story slowly moved through to longtail Blogs and up to some of the bigger Blogs in the nation. But, sadly, most in the left Blogosphere only became somewhat familiar with the plight of these students long after the fact.

As I wrote when I covered this in June: "This story has been in the AfroSpear for quite a while." Yet, it had hardly moved near the MSM, unless you count the fact that this story really broke in Britain on the BBC. Yep, you read that right. An American Civil Rights tragedy and our local SCLM media couldn't manage to break the story. Until the last few days. An entire year later.

The Chicago Tribune and other broken parts of the American MSM finally started paying attention and covered this as the words of Bloggers slowly grew to become a movement to action:
In a mile-long procession, tens of thousands of civil rights demonstrators from around the nation marched this morning from the courthouse of this racially embattled town to the schoolyard where nooses were hung from a tree last year as a warning to black students.

Chanting "No justice, no peace," the black-clad demonstrators walked down quiet residential streets as homeowners somberly watched from their front steps, their arms crossed in front of them.
This movement that is kicking in the TV screen of every single news network today took forever and a day to get any real notice from these same American networks. But the fact that it is finally getting coverage is a good thing, for the most part.

People across the nation are taking actions in any way they can. This is not just happening in Jena, but it may very well be happening in your own neighborhood:
My Heart is in Jena

Sometimes you are a part of something big and you don't eve realize it. The Jena 6 case comes to mind. Thanks to the Afrospear movement and other bloggers of color out there, I have known about the Jena 6 case for months now. It seemed almost surreal to watch it grow and take on a life of it's own. A newspaper story here, a local news clip there, little by little the country started to take notice, and now....

For those of us black activist who use the web as a tool for change, we have been e-mailing each other, blogging about Jena,calling each other, and organizing on the web for months, about this travesty of justice down in Bayou country. Now, finally, the rest of America has caught on. This is now national news, and the Jena 6 has springboarded into our national conscience. It also reinforces my belief that the Internet and the world wide web can also be used as a tremendous tool for activism and organizing for social change.

Today is the culmination of all the work that everyone that rallied around this case has done. There will be a huge rally in Jena today in support of those six men, and from all indications so far it is going to be massive. Countless buses have already left my area, loaded with activist and people who want a change, and who are all just sick and tired of being tired. African American College students have mobilized and united around this cause, and activism seems to have taken the place of apathy.
As Field notes, he can't get to Jena, but he is heading to a demonstration in in Westchester PA. He is doing something, anything. Unfortunately, not all of the actions across the nation that are arising in response to this movement appear to be so positive:
3 white students at the Illinois Roberts High School in Springfield were suspended earlier today after beating a black student in their school cafeteria, allegedly in protest of the public support for Jena 6.

The victim, black male Johnathon Curtis, 15, was reportedly wearing a Free Jena 6 t-shirt and bracelet when he was approached by Benjamin Barnelli, 17, Blake Sheffield, 16, and Fredrick Tompson, 18. According to eye-witnesses at the school, they then began heckling Curtis, poking him with utensils and smearing food in his face before the fight broke out.

Barnelli punched Curtis in the back of the head which prompted the student to return the punch which landed on Sheffield, causing a black eye. The 3 white students then proceeded to beat Curtis, kicking and punching him for over a minute before a teacher broke up the fight.

I have been unable to verify that Illinois story with any alternate internet or MSM sources, but given how long it took for most of America to notice the Jena 6 story would that surprise anyone at all?

How much longer can we, as a nation and especially as Progressives and Liberals, afford to ignore these issues of justice, equality, and racism before it begins to tear the nation apart? How much longer can we afford to dismiss someone else's "single issue" as being unimportant to us all and disenfranchise them from our ideas of what Progressivism or Liberalism is or should be?

Many in the MSM are calling it a "reawakening of the Civil Rights movement" or other similarly ignorant statements, IMHO. To those of us that have been paying attention to discussions in the AfroSpear, Afrosphere or Blackosphere, or whatever you want to call it... Some of them may agree with me:

The Civil Rights movement never really died.
America just stopped paying attention to it.

Well... To those of you that just choked on the bitter taste of reality from the news today for the first time, all I can say is: Are you going to start paying attention to it now? If you are, here is a snippet of the refresher course to wipe the bitter taste of the reality from your mouth:
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. (MLK)
The fact that the protests in Jena and across the nation are happening is proof that this shameful condition still exists here in America. Meanwhile, blacks -and other minorities - are still living in hopes of the dream.

4 comments:

Roach said...

These guys are not innocent even under their supporters' account. They were provoked by words and responded with a six on one beat down. These are not good people and they don't belong on the street. The murder charges have been dropped, so this whole thing is moot.

PS It's still legal under the First Amendment to show nooses on a tree. It might mean you can get suspended from school--which the offenders were--but that's it. Maybe you should read the Constitution sometime.

Connecticut Man 1 said...

Where... Anywhere, in this account do I state that they are completely innocent of everything? Don't put words in my mouth.

If you know as much about the Constitution as you claim... Perhaps you would like to re-read the title? And then begin to demand "EQUAL JUSTICE" under the eyes of the law.

plez... said...

unfortunately, the whole Jena 6 incident doesn't fit comfortably in our 20-second sound bite world. the illogical, systematic discrimination (and yes, racism) that pervades every facet of life in Jena, LA led to the unfortunate "beat down" that resulted in the attempted murder charges. it is difficult to illustrate in a 30-second news bit how a noose hanging from "the white tree" is a terrorist threat and how that threat was basically ignored. in most of synopses of the Jena 6 Situation, it is lost that a group of black students were threatened at gun point by a white man (and when they disarmed him, the threatened students were arrested), it is lost that a black student was severely beaten up at a "white" party just a few days before the white student was set upon by the Jena 6. no white person was arrested and charged with assault.

unfortunately, the result of the pushback ended up sending that poor young man to the hospital, even though, we now know that he decided to taunt the wrong group of Black guys (who decided that they would no longer tolerate the racism in their hometown). are they guilty of applying an ass whuppin'? the answer is yes. was it attempted murder? the answer is no.

to my way of thinking, the Jena 6 should be in jail with a couple of their town's white citizens... now that's what i would call equal justice!

Connecticut Man 1 said...

Thanks for the comment Plez. That is part of the point of the post. No one in this story is completely innocent, not even the prosecutor, IMHO. Stuff like this wouldn't happen if justice were meted out equally across the board in the first place.

Also, I am somewhat pissed at the same things that has guys like Field teeing off on the "Big Boys" of the Blogosphere right now. Many of them are as guilty as the American media on this one.